Nate’s Great Eight – #5 Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends

While I lack the innate musical abilities of, well, everyone in my family as well as Mae, I have a profound appreciation for music. I have no scriptural reference to back me up on this, call it a hunch, but I feel like music is more closely linked to the language of God than any we know. The power and the meaning that is embedded into the rhythm, tempo, and tonality enhances the meaning of words and can often communicate more and more quickly. So the Great Eight would not be complete with out a musical review.

I have been undergoing something of a subtle and minor shift in my musical preferences, as people are prone to do I suppose. That is evident in how I have been listening to far more “alternative rock” and less “Reggae.” Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a good classic reggae beat and socially conscious lyric, but I have been far more focused on probably two bands more so than the others, Coldplay and The Killers, both of whom put out great albums this year. So for this post I wanted to talk about my thoughts about the genius album by Coldplay “Viva La Vide or Death and His Friends.”

Overall Impressions:

The album runs the gambit of emotions in human experience, it audibly captures the ranges of human experiences.  The album has songs of

Life in Technicolor -This intro is something of a tease, as you listen to it build, you are prepared to hear Chris launch into a life-affirming ballad, but it stops just short.  But it works, it draws you into the rest of the album, like any good artist, you leave them always wanting more.  By the way, if you read to the end you will get the treat, ever so delayed.

Cemeteries of London – This song strikes you with its tone, it almost seems out of place, but like most of the other tunes, first impressions rarely leave you with the real essence of what is to come.  This song is solid, but not spectacular.  Probably only appealing to real Coldplay fans,  as it lacks the hooks and melodies of some of their most famous work.  But it speaks to the spiritual struggle that is omnipresent on the album as shown in the lyrics “God is in the houses, and God is in my head, and all the cemeteries of London.  I see God in my garden, but I don’t know what he said, because my heart wasn’t open, not open.”

Lost! – The song is an ode to searching and longing.  I have heard some try to claim that this is Coldplay doing hip-hop and I suppose there is something to the rhythm that may suggest it, but if it is true it is likely only an influence rather than an experiment.  This album is hardly a stylistic laboratory, but rather a rock odyssey.

42 – This song may be the most melancholy of the lot.  Chris Martin is in his element with wistful wailing and pleading.  The production here is solid and like many songs on the album breaks into a second phase.  Creating a song within a song.  But what would you expect from an album titled Viva La Vida (Long Live Life) or Death and All His Friends.  This album is largely about juxtaposition and contrast.  I love the line “Time is so short, there must be something more.  You thought you might be a ghost, you didn’t get to heaven, but you made it close.”

Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love – The song quickly moves into an auditory sprint and you feel yourself driving and pushing.  Although lyrically the song is possibly more questioning and speculative  than the melody may suggest.  The interesting thing is that the music lifts you with the hope and carries an unworldly quality to it.  Almost as if you are above the sense of questioning and worry and you know it will get better.  I can’t quite pick the right word, but it is almost angelic, just not in the sense of the “hallelujahs chorus” kind of angelic!

Yes – The song begins with a very Beatle’s-esque string intro and slowly ebbs into its own unique blend of instruments and sounds.  Chris Martin makes it work even though he is singing probably an octave lower than we are  used to hearing him.  Rather than the trademark sing-for-the-rafters approach Chris takes into one of the darker places on the album, here he seems conflicted, tempted, and almost ready to give in.  This is one of the longer songs on the album and is just over 7 minutes, but is really two songs.  The second half of the song is almost like divine intervention into the fog of the first half.  Chris is back into the falsetto he is so known for and as only Coldplay can seem to do, they take the distortion and feedback of the electric instruments and spiral it into an angelic, ethereal experience.   This song is an interesting juxtaposition of sound and manages to redirect at just the right moment.  It is almost as if you are there at his moment of abandoning himself to the moment and then a brilliant intervention flashes  and something is calling to him, a memory maybe, but something higher, something more important.  This song is great example of how Coldplay paints pictures with their sounds.  Not as catchy as their other tunes, but rather … contemplative.

Viva la Vida – Again, another string intro, but this one is brighter in tone and combined with the pulsing rhythms of the percussion it brings the energy and melody that has made it a mainstream hit.  Again the essence is life affirming, effervescent, and inspiring.  When the album is listened to in succession it is almost as if he is redeemed and glorying in the moment as he is free from the moment in “Yes.”   This song combines choral backdrops, incredibly catchy lyrics, and you pretty much want to belt out along with Chris.

Violet Hill – Probably one of the edgier tones on the album, which is likely to explain why I always first read it as Violent Hill instead.  This song seethes of the emotion of a relationship in limbo.  “If you love me won’t you let me know” he sings.  The band follows with a throbbing that just makes me think of the heart is a desperate plea.  Their is almost an Oasis-flavor to this song and I almost expect to hear a Gallagher snarling out the lines “If you loved me, why’d you let me go?”  The song ends with him sweetly coaxing his love, “If you love me won’t you let me know, If you love me won’t you let me know?”

Strawberry Swing – For me this song is the catchiest and probably my favorite.  There is a fun and sparkling melody and this song really brings all the strengths of this album together.  This is Coldplay in its sweet spot.  The mood is bright, the spirit is lively and is captured in the line “It is such, it is such a perfect day!”  This is the song that makes you want to grab your sweethearts hand and just be in the moment.  And just like a perfect day it fades away all to quickly, but better for having been there.

Death and All His Friends – A beautiful, clean and solitary piano lead in enters the oddest of titled songs on the album.  Not nearly as morbid as the title may sound, in fact the song just may be the anthemic crescendo to the year’s and possibly the decades greatest album.  The musical odyssey that began with the sensory tickling of “Life in Technicolor” comes to the heights Chris Martin and company yearning and then back to the now familiar intro with Chris adding the lyrics “And in the end, We lie awake and dream of making our escape.”  Just beautiful.

Lost? – This is just like Lost!, but stripped down to a piano accompaniment and truly plays like a question not a declaration.

Lovers in Japan (Acoustic Version) – Again, another version, but brought to its melodic purity without the electronic distortions of the electronic instruments.  The following lyrics capture the essence and power in the music:

“They are turning my head out,To see what I’m all about.

Keeping my head down, to see what it feels like now.

But I have no doubt, that one day the sun will come out.”

As I was preparing for this post, I found that Coldplay has in fact put lyrics to Life in Technicolor and I am convinced that this album is the “Joshua Tree” for another generation.  The video below shows the mastery and comedy and range of the greatest band in the world.

Post script – Since this post is so long, I may extend it to another topic on another day.  I wanted to talk a little about the Killer’s album too.

Published in: on 1 March 2009 at 11:00 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks Nate, the family loved the puppet show.

  2. I’m right there with you. Music speaks to a deeper part of me, to my soul. I’m not as eloquent as you are, but I love the way you describe it as God’s language.

    My music preferences have evolved as well, and I just discovered Celtic Woman, and I love their stuff. It’s not anything like Coldplay (suprisingly:-)) but it’s haunting, magical, beautiful. I thank the Lord for music everyday . Thank you for your post!

  3. Nicely written Nate……I love your ability to analyze- and then actually put your thoughts into words. It’s no secret how I feel about this cd, well if detail were the gauge used to measure my adoration- then I guess it would be a secret still. It’s all good though, as long as we have SOMEONE in the family who can eloquently articulate, then I will always be able to say with pride, “yeah, what HE said…….” 😉

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